The Clasp by Sloane Crosley These Shallow Graves by Jennifer Donnelly Sofia Khan is Not Obliged by Ayisha Malik

A Round-Up Of YA Reviews

Monday, May 26, 2014

We Were Liars by E. Lockhart

WHAT'S THE DEAL? A groups of cousins and their friend visit their private island every year. However, one of the cousins misses a few summers and returns to find out what's really going on. 

ANY GOOD? We Were Liars is taut and tense. E. Lockhart is really good at building suspense and deftly handling a mystery. The first half was confusing and I kept thinking 'where is this going?' as a I frantically turned the pages. There are lots of dead ends and often you'll think you've solved it only to be thrown off the trail. The use of fairytales and this magical sounding private island really helps with the distortion of the truth but it will all make sense in the end. Great nod to Jaclyn Moriarty - I liked that book too. I don't really want to give anything away, so won't say anything about the characters other than I liked their names except for Gatwick. That's the name of one of our airports. Maybe there's some significance that I missed. Anyway, We Were Liars was excellent. 

ADD TO BASKET? Yes, if you're looking for a clever mystery.

WHAT'S THE DEAL? Amy is all set for a regular summer with her best friend and new boyfriend when suddenly she is told she has to spend time with her estranged father. Oh, and not at home in Chicago, but in Israel so she can meet his side of the family. Needless to say, Amy is not impressed by the new change of plans.

ANY GOOD? I bought this last summer because it was on a YA Buccaneers Reading Mutiny challenge but I ended up reading something else instead. On a train journey last week I just started reading it and ended up hooked and finished it in a day. Amy was really bratty but I liked her. I think watching Abigail on Dance Academy has softened me towards bratty characters. Those of you who've read my other posts will know I have a soft spot for Israel, so I loved the setting. Amy's exploration of her heritage and her relationships with her extended family and her estranged father were all so wonderfully handled. 

I always like a good group of friends in a story and Amy made some great friends who helped her on her journey. They never felt like filler either, which I really liked. I also enjoyed her interactions with her family, especially her grandmother. Obviously, there's a romance in the story - just look at the cover - but Amy's relationship with Avi was quite sweet once we got past the whole 'prickly, push-pull' thing. I'm definitely going to get the sequels to see what happens to them once Avi starts his military service. 

ADD TO BASKET? If you're looking for a fun summer story that also deals with Israeli culture.

WHAT'S THE DEAL? Katy and her mother move to W.Virginia to start over. Katy's mother encourages her to befriend the teens next door but Katy soon finds out there might be more to them than she otherwise thought.

ANY GOOD? This really wasn't my kind of story (and spawned this kind-of rant). However, if you like the human falling for 'the other' set up, you'll love this. I didn't believe the romance and thought it felt a bit forced. Maybe in the sequels everything is fleshed out a little more and maybe Katy (or Kat or Kate or Kitty Cat - she had too many names!) realises Daemon isn't for her and they become best friends instead like Chloe and Clarke. However, I highly doubt that (but please do prove me wrong if that's not the case). To me, it was like Twilight with aliens. However, it was well writen and the blogging in-jokes were a nice touch. 

ADD TO BASKET?  If you love Twilight and anything like it. 

WHAT'S THE DEAL? Anna and her friends' spring break trip to Aruba ends horrifically when her best friend Elise is murdered. Anna finds herself being held as the prime suspect and as she awaits trial she is forced to revisit the past two years with Elise and wonder if everything really was as it seemed.

ANY GOOD? Hands down one of the best books I've read all year. I know it got a lot of love last year but I only just got round to reading it and I wish I hadn't waited so long! It's so clever - oh the twists and turns! Dangerous Girls is a complete mindbender. I tip my hat, nay I take off my hat and curtsey, to Abigail Haas. The writing, the plot, the character - all PERFECT. There's nothing else to say other than read it now if you haven't already!

ADD TO BASKET? If you like a mind boggling thriller. 

Sunday Brunch: The State of Teen Television

Sunday, May 25, 2014

Brunch isn't really a big deal over here but I love the idea of it - and enjoy going to brunch whilst on holiday. Whenever I'm throwing together ideas for a new story, one of my favourite things to do is go Google Maps-ing for all the nice restaurants in the area. As I have dairy intolerance, I often have to watch what I eat at restaurants so it's not always a fun experience. However, the rise of all those Food Network shows and Pinterest and all the great reviews on Yelp and Chowhound allow me to live vicariously through all you gastronauts. 

So, I thought I'd try and start a new feature (although I'm not good at keeping up features so we'll see) where we go for brunch on a Sunday, anywhere in the world, and have a chat. This week we'll be:

This week, lots of people participated in I Read YA week. Lots of recommendations were floating around and plenty of enthusiastic posts popped up with people declaring why they choose to read YA. Even Rolling Stone produced a list of must-reads (I like to think I'm quite well-versed in YA but I haven't read nearly half the list, so I guess I have a lot of catching up to do). Anyway, all of this made me think: there's a wealth of great YA literature and so many talented YA writers out there, so why is teen television in such dire straits?

I loosely followed the news from this year's Upfronts and watched a number of the new trailers (sooooo many misses but that's a topic for another day) but there are hardly any offerings for teens - and those of us who aren't teens but enjoy teen shows. Don't get me wrong, I love my procedurals but do we really need another NCIS spin off? Why can't we have a new Dawson's Creek? Just scanning the list of new shows, apart from The CW offerings which are primarily geared to young people, there are only two new pickups for teens. There's How To Get Away With Murder (ABC), which is Shonda Rhimes' latest venture set at a law school, and Red Band Society (Fox). Not so many choices.

Now, there are a lot of crossover shows like Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D and The Mindy Project and all the reality shows that I'm sure teens watch but just as there's a comprehensive space within literature for young people, shouldn't the same go for TV?  As for the shows that are on the air, I've noticed they're getting dumbed down more and more every year. Everything has to be spelled out for the audience. Take Star-Crossed for example - did the alien characters really need tribal markings to signify their 'otherness'? Smallville was one of my favourite teen shows and as far as I can remember, the non-humans did not have to look different to the humans. I've also noticed that nowadays there is so much packed into a single episode that there's hardly any room for character development. I understand showrunners/writers/everyone involved are scared about cancellations but wouldn't you rather one season of great TV, remembered forever, rather than three seasons you had to fight tooth and nail for that are essentially filled with air? One hallmark of the old shows was character development. What would The Gilmore Girls have been if Rory had to complete 500 tasks in one episode and only spoke to her mother at the end for a pithy, platitude filled summing up? Whatever happened to subtelty and nuance? There's a reason people still flock to quality shows such as Friday Night Lights like mosquitos to a flame. 

I haven't mentioned my own country's offerings because we're not much better and import a lot of US shows (especially the ones on the brink of cancellation come Christmastime, which is SO annoying). However, when we get it right, we get it right. Skins, Misfits, Waterloo Road, Inbetweeners, My Mad Fat Diary, and Youngers to name a few. They're rarely the 'safe', family option but they're often very real and extremely well written. 

As I said in the opening, there are so many talented YA writers out there both published and unpublished. Hollywood seems to agree as we've seen with the slew of adaptations hitting our big screens. TV execs desperately need to get with it and tap into this pool of talent. If you catch your viewers young, they'll most likely stay with you. On the flipside, the likes of Netflix and Amazon could strike gold if they do the same and manage to create a breakout hit like House of Cards. Can't you just imagine something like the Burn for Burn series by Jenny Han and Siobhan Vivian or Dangerous Girls by Abigail Haas or Noughts and Crosses by Malorie Blackman on Netflix? The possibilities are endless. 

Give teens the intelligent, well written shows they deserve. 

So, what do you think about the state of teen television? Do you think there's a gap in the market or are you satisfied with what's already out there?

Song of the Summer 2014

Friday, May 23, 2014

The staff at Vulture have already begun the search for this year's Song of the Summer. As we Brits seem to be getting a little more sun than usual these days, I thought I'd throw in my two pence. Please feel free to weigh in with your own picks - I'm always on the hunt for new music.

Rather Be - Clean Bandit ft. Jess Glynne

Such a cute song. It came out a while ago over her but it's so summery I'm sure we'll be blaring it until September.

Fancy - Iggy Azalea ft. Charli XCX

Another catchy one from Iggy. Helps that Charli XCX sounds a bit Gwen Stefani. If you're a Clueless fan you should definitely check out the video.

 Waves - Mr Probz

Bit of a mellow one but again it's getting a lot of airplay over here. Perfect for sundown.

Love Never Felt So Good - Michael Jackson ft. Justin Timberlake
The throwback sound is here to stay apparently. I bet Bruno Mars wishes he had this song. Actually, it kind of reminds me of Treasure...still, a fun one for family bbq's and whatnot.

I Will Never Let You Down - Rita Ora

I LOVE this song. It's so happy sounding and makes me smile. Rita Ora should make songs like this all of the time instead of trying to be the next Rihanna/Beyonce/Whoever.

Differentology - Bunji Garlin

Perfect for carnival. Perfect for the upcoming World Cup. 

Other Notable Mentions: Hideaway - Kiesza; Turn Down For What - DJ Snake & Lil Jon; Ready For Your Love - Gorgon City; We Are One - Pitbull, Jennifer Lopez, Claudia Leitte; My Love - Route 94, Jess Glynne; I Got U - Duke Dumont

What summery songs do you like at the moment?

Top Ten Tuesday: Top Ten Books About Friendship

Tuesday, May 20, 2014

Top Ten Tuesday is a weekly meme hosted by The Broke and the Bookish. This week's theme is: Top Ten Books About Friendship. 

1. Saving Francesca by Melina MarchettaOne of my favourite books. One of my favourite group of friends. Everyone and everything is written with such realness but it's a Melina Marchetta book - what do you expect? You can catch up with some of them in The Piper's Son too. 

2. The Disenchantments by Nina LaCour - These friends are too cool. Except Bev - I didn't like her but still...there are all types of friendships in this book and they're all tested.

3. Naomi & Ely's No Kiss List by Rachel Cohn & David Levithan - I've said it before but I don't know why people didn't really take to this one as much as Nick & Norah/Dash & Lily. I love Naomi and Ely and their complicated friendship. This is a good one for showing that whilst it's great to have your one person (a la Meredith and Cristina), you still need to let others in too in order to grow.

4. Commencement by J. Courtney Sullivan - A great one for all you soon-to-be graduates out there (congratulations!!) and anyone who wants a good book about making and keeping friends in college.

5. The Lost Art of Keeping Secrets by Eva Rice - I love, love, LOVE this book so very much. Charlotte waltzes into Penelope's post-war haze and injects some much needed life into her world.

6. Finding Cassie Crazy by Jaclyn Moriarty - Also known as The Year of Secret Assignments I believe. Lydia, Em, and Cass are a great example of a trio working well. Sometimes three can be a crowd but they have each others' backs, especially when one of them goes through a difficult period. I wanted to add the Internet Girls girls to the list too as they are similar to the Ashbury girls but ran out of room.  

7. Gossip Girl by Cecily von Ziegsar - S and B forever. That's all. 

8. Code Name Verity by Elizabeth Wein - Friendship between two unlikely young women born out of strife and adversity. What's not to love?

9. Things I Can't Forget by Miranda Keneally - I really liked this book and one of the reasons was due to the friendship that spawned between Kate and Parker. In her own novel, Parker was more of a guy's girl (and there's nothing wrong with that but I really believe sometimes you need girl time) so it was nice to see her befriend the often misunderstood Kate. There's also the whole business of broken friendships when it comes to Kate and her official BFF Emily.

10. Swim The Fly by Don Calame - This book was so funny. The escapades of Matt and his two besties are truly laugh out loud. It's like Superbad for the younger crowd. 

Sunday Brunch: Can We Rely On Book Ratings?

Sunday, May 18, 2014

Brunch isn't really a big deal over here but I love the idea of it - and enjoy going to brunch whilst on holiday. Whenever I'm throwing together ideas for a new story, one of my favourite things to do is go Google Maps-ing for all the nice restaurants in the area. As I have dairy intolerance, I often have to watch what I eat at restaurants so it's not always a fun experience. However, the rise of all those Food Network shows and Pinterest and all the great reviews on Yelp and Chowhound allow me to live vicariously through all you gastronauts. 

So, I thought I'd try and start a new feature (I'm not good at keeping up features so we'll see) where we go for brunch on a Sunday, anywhere in the world, and have a chat. This week we'll be:

I used to always find my new books on Goodreads. Sometimes I'd use the Amazon 'You Bought This, So You Might Like This' thing but I'd always go back to Goodreads to double check. Then I started this blog and started following more book bloggers, trusting their reviews and buying new books that way. 

My TBR/To-Get list (that's a whole other topic) was getting a little bit outdated so I decided to start again with an Excel spreadsheet, splitting them into various categories and adding all the new books from all the WoW posts and whatnot. In order to do this properly, I had to go through them all and decide if I really needed to add them to the new and improved list. So, I started looking through Goodreads and that's when I realised the types of reviews have changed. 

To be honest, I've come to the conclusion that for certain types of books - often YA/NA and 'chick-lit'/women's fiction - Goodreads ratings are quite unreliable. I'm not sure if this is because there are loads of super fans? Maybe people are just more liberal with their five star giving these days? On the other hand, there are quite a lot of one or two star ratings too. I can count on one hand how many books I've given two stars and I don't think I've ever given a book one star! I don't know what's going on - maybe it's all in my head- but it seems like the rating on Goodreads and my overall opinion are more and more at odds these days. I like to think I'm fairly measured when it comes to my feelings about a book although I do tend to lean towards the more positive side. I'm usually quite optimistic whilst reading and will often see a book through to the end, even if I'm not one hundred per cent won over. So, with all that in mind, I don't think I'm being harsh or unfair when I'm disappointed in a book that had a 4.5 rating on Goodreads that, in my opinion, would be more of a 3. 

I recently bought and read The Boys of Summer by C.J Duggan. I wanted something quick and easy and fun, so quickly scanned through Amazon's suggestions on my Kindle. The Boys of Summer was recommended, so as I said above, I cross-referenced with Goodreads and saw it had a 4.0 from 1900+ ratings. Sounded good enough to me. Now, there's absolutely nothing wrong with this book (I gave it a 3) but I was just disappointed. I was expecting something more thanks to the rating. For comparisons sake, Winger (which is still in the top three of my favourite books of the year) is a 4.17. Perhaps I'm comparing apples to oranges but The Boys of Summer was no Winger. I've had a similar experience with Obsidian by Jennifer L. Armentrout, which to me is Twilight with aliens. It's a quick read but again not really a 4.3, at least not for me. 

So, why do people give such high ratings these days? I was thinking perhaps reviewers feel compelled to give higher ratings if the book has been given to them as an ARC. Obviously, book blogging can be competitive - the more ARCs you get and author interviews and giveaways and followers, the bigger and 'better' you are - so you don't want to burn bridges with publishers I suppose. However, if this is the case, then it's not fair to the regular readers who just want to find a good book via Goodreads but end up disappointed because the ratings are very unbalanced. 

Also, as I said above, the New Adult ratings are often sky high and I've definitely learnt to not consider the Goodreads ratings for these. In fact, if I'm going to read New Adult, I'll consult Dahlia's list and go from there. I think that's because NA readers know what they want, and know what they're looking for, and the books often always give them what they want. So, why wouldn't you give it 5 stars?

Then again, I was thinking, can we rely on ratings at all? Unless you're a professional reviewer or a librarian or another literary related profession, I think it would be hard to provide an objective review. So, the way we feel about a book, and our subsequent review of it, is dependent on so many things - our mood, the weather, our location, genre bias etc. 

All in all, I've changed the way I use Goodreads. Now, I tend to just look at the synopsis and ignore the rating. I've learnt to trust a couple of bloggers who have similar tastes to me and they haven't really let me down in the recommendations department as of yet. That doesn't mean to say I won't try something one of these bloggers has deemed not so good but they often provide balanced reviews and qualify their issues with the books. I also check out Top Ten Tuesday and Waiting on Wednesday posts when I have time. I've also gone back to taking recommendations from my monthly magazines. I've been getting the US issues of Glamour and Marie Claire regularly for about a year now and find they often recommend books that I end up enjoying. After all, I found Gone Girl through Elle magazine when it was released.

So, I've talked far too much. What do you think about ratings? Should we just get rid of the ratings system altogether, perhaps? 

What's Occurring?

Saturday, May 17, 2014

As I've said before, I've never really gotten into the habit of doing a Friday links type post but I often have little topics that I want to talk about or come across things in the week that warrant sharing, so I'll try and do this at least once a month. 

The Pages

  • I've read quite a lot recently but haven't felt like doing full reviews for any of them. That's not to say they weren't good. I might do a mini round up at some point.
  • Right now, I'm reading Obsidian by Jennifer L.Armentrout. It cropped up on a lot of lists for Top Ten Tuesday - Books like X TV Show/Movie, with the show being Star-Crossed. I've nearly finished it and, well...hmmm. We'll talk about it in relation to something else tomorrow. 
  • I finally read Life In Motion: An Unlikely Ballerina by Misty Copeland and LOVED it. Such an inspiring story. I also read Listen To The Squawking Chicken by Elaine Lui, which was so funny and heartwarming. Her mum sounds like a riot. 

The Soundtrack

  • I love Rita Ora's new song I Will Never Let You Down and Pharrell's Marilyn Monroe. Also still listening to Foster the People's latest album. Arctic Monkey's AM is STILL going strong for me. I haven't listened to them this much since Favourite Worst Nightmare.
  • As you can probably guess from my reading habits, I'm in a bit of a dance mood at the moment. As a result, I loved this video for Sia's Chandelier! I don't watch Dance Mom's (I tried to watch it once but couldn't stand the teacher woman) but apparently the young dancer is a regular on the show. Amazing. 

The Words

  • Technically I won Camp NaNoWriMo last month BUT I forgot you have to do the validate your word count thing so didn't get a badge or anything. Still, I was pleased to have met - and exceeded - my target. 
  • Also, I'm having fun playing with ideas for a new one. 

And The Rest...

  • Still no luck on the job front :(
  • I have recently discovered the wonder that is Chicago Fire. LOVE IT. It's like a tamer Rescue Me.
  • Thanks to Clear Eyes, Full Shelves I've been pushed to finish the first season of Dance Academy so I can get to the second season, which was written by the immensely talented Melina Marchetta.
  • Last week, I saw The Showman of Our Time a.k.a Mr Barry Manilow at a taping of The Graham Norton Show. It was great, especially as we got treated to a second performance of I Write The Songs due to technical issues. 
  • Only two weeks until Star Trek Live, which I cannot wait for. It's one of those events where they show the film and the score is played live alongside. That score is one of my absolute favourites (I wasn't keen on anything about Into Darkness). 
  • Let's finish with a video of Misty Copeland. After finishing the book, I watched dozens of Youtube videos of her because I've never had the honour of seeing her perform live. For some reason, I never used to watch any ballet or orchestra performances on Youtube because I thought it wouldn't be the same as seeing it live - like something would be lost - but I've gotten over that. Anyway, enjoy!

Only Boring People Are Bored

Wednesday, May 14, 2014

Mad Men Wednesday means more of my favourite adverts.

As summer approaches, the fashion brands are putting their best foot forward ad wise.

Missguided - Born As A Unicorn 

Everyone's loving Sleigh Bells, aren't they? I think this song was used in the promos - and in the film? I only got through 20 minutes - for The Bling Ring. Fun advert. (It's called Kids if you want to know). Very Nasty Gal-esque.

Tesco F&F - Feel the Heat Summer 2014 

I really thought this was Missguided/BooHoo etc to begin with. Great advert - the music really helps. The Tesco creative department have been really on trend of late (even ahead at times).

French Connection did have one I think but I only saw it once and can't find a video. Well, there's a S/S 14 video on their Youtube page but I'm not sure if that's the same advert. I'm not so keen on that one, so I'll keep it on the backburner.

Vodafone - Spotify (RKCR/Y&R)

Not fashion related. Just makes me smile.

I'm Still Waiting For That Manhattan...

Wednesday, May 7, 2014

So, Don, Peggy, Joan, and I have all made up again - yay! I finally got around to finishing season 6 of Mad Men (a whole year later) and have caught up with the first three episodes of season 7 - part 1. In celebration, I thought I'd revive Mad Men Wednesday, which kind of started last year but fizzled out once I dropped the show. Obviously. So, let's cut the chit chat and get on with the ad's (both Wieden + Kennedy, sorry. I don't work for them, I swear). 

Cravendale - Barry The Biscuit Boy  (Wieden + Kennedy)

I laughed so hard the first time I saw this and still it never fails to produce a chuckle. If you can't view the video for whatever reason, I beg you to go and find it elsewhere. You won't be sorry. I would love to have a conversation with the person who came up with this - I'm sure it would be interesting to say the least.

Nike - Winner Stays (Wieden + Kennedy)

The World Cup is almost upon us. Need I say more?

We Need Diverse Books

Thursday, May 1, 2014

I'm sure by now you've all seen #weneediversebooks on Twitter, which is part of the We Need Diverse Books campaign. Obviously, as a black Caribbean Brit, this is very important to me and I wholly back the campaign. I think it's obvious (or at least it should be) that we do in fact need diverse books and a shame that we have to campaign for it. However, for those who need convincing, here are a few reasons why I personally feel we need more diverse books.

First and foremost, so that young children today can see themselves reflected in the media in the same way I did when I was a child. Looking back on everything, I don't think I ever really questioned my identity. I have always been proud of who I am and where I come from and this all stemmed from good parenting, a strong faith, and the media I had access too. Growing up in the 90's, I never had to look very far to see someone like me reflected on the TV and my parents went to great lengths to make sure our books were diverse too. When we got home, we could watch Sister, Sister and Moesha and Smart Guy and The Proud Family. During the school holidays, our national TV stations had no problem showing The Cosby Show, Hangin' With Mr Cooper, Martin, The Oprah Winfrey Show and so many other shows featuring people who looked like me. This was so important considering we moved from a very diverse area to a predominantly white area. For a long time, my sister and I were the only black children in our primary school but we never experienced any problems and were always healthy, happy children. So much so, I never questioned the diversity issue until I started really getting into this blogging thing, particularly the YA section, and realised actually yes, all the characters in these YA contemporary books that I devour are rather homogenous. Where did it all go wrong?

To avoid tokenism and exoticism. These days, people in positions of authority seem to think they've passed the diversity test (because inclusion is a chore just like a test?) because there's one background character who is from a minority group. Similarly, this character might be added to the mix to 'spice things up'. Let's put in a 'fiesty Latina or a 'sassy' gay character. That's not cool. It perpetuates 'otherness' and elevates one group over another in a seemingly inoffensive way. 

I've seen a lot of people putting forward the vampire/monster example and think that's perfect. If Edward Cullen can make everyone's hearts flutter, why can't a HUMAN from a minority group do the same?! When you put it so simply, it really makes you think. 

So that when children of today go to interviews in 10-15 years time, they will know it is NOT normal or acceptable for the all white office of a multinational corporation to stop working and gawp as you walk by as if you're an alien. So that their interviewer will not go dead in the eyes when they realise you're not like everyone else in the office so won't be a good 'cultural fit', therefore won't even bother to interview you properly. Instead, said interviewer won't bat an eyelid because they will be interviewing the person whose CV/resume/cover letter suggested they are more than capable of sitting at the table. 

Regarding my own people, so that people know that our story is more than just slavery or poverty or rioting or rapping/dancing/entertaining/playing sports.

Finally, so that when another Lupita comes along (and hopefully there will be many more) we won't have magazines going into overcompensation mode because she's so 'different'. We won't have people who are 'pleasantly surprised' to hear someone like her speak so eloquently or be called beautiful. So that people like Lupita can just go on about their business doing what they love rather than having to carry the weight of all the other dark skinned people out there who have a dream because it will just be normal to have a dream of being on the big screen and be able to accomplish it regardless of your skin tone. 

I could go on forever but those are the first points that come to mind. If you feel we need more diverse books, join the campaign!